Are you aware of what you are thinking, feeling and how you are acting in between your golf shots?
Lots of golfers are very conscious of their behaviours whilst executing shots, but this only equates for a small percentage of the round.
What about the rest of it?
In my experience, our behavioural habits in between our shots play a crucial part to how well you perform and how much you enjoy your golf.
Let’s look at a couple of extreme examples:
The Anywhere but Present Golfer – Golfer 1
Golfer 1 hits his tee shot on a 410-yard par 4 which isn’t too good – the ball starts a bit right of where he was aiming and then curves further right resulting in the ball flirting with the trees.
Admittedly, it wasn’t one of his best, but instead of accepting that he is going to make some poor swings during every round, he spends the first half of his journey down the fairway ruminating about what went wrong.
‘’Knew I was going to do that’’
‘’Swing is so bad’’
‘’Hate this bloody driver’’
‘’Getting so over the top of it’’
And then once this internal beratement is over, his mind then quickly turns its attention to the upcoming shot despite still being a good 150+ yards away from his ball.
He starts contemplating all the potential outcomes:
”What sort of shot will I have?”
”Will I screw this up?”
”Is this another double bogey?”
”I needed a 3 pointer here really…”
And by the time he arrives to his next shot, he has built up lots of needless tension and used way more mental exertion than was required.
The Present Golfer – Golfer 2
Now you are told all the time, that you must stay present to play your best golf, but what does this actually look mean?
Well this more present golfer hits the identical tee shot to golfer 1.
but instead of internally berating himself about it, he quickly accepts that these swings happen and moves on from it very quickly.
He may have a quick post shot review to get an understanding of why he blocked it right, but by the time he has got to the end of the tee block, he is back with the ‘’present moment’’.
He begins to drum up a conversation with one of his playing partners which he is genuinely engaged in.
He consciously takes time to feel the cool breeze brush past his face.
He notices the beauty of the hole he is playing.
He’s also very aware of things, like the smell of a BBQ which is wafting in from one of the nearby houses and the feeling of his feet stepping down the fairway.
And if a negative feeling or thought does crop up, he just lets it be there without any judgement.
He’s also very conscious of his body language. He walks with his head up and shoulders back. A more commanding and powerful body language has been proven to have a distinct effort on your calming hormones.
This kind of body language results in a Lowering of your stress hormone, cortisol, and an increase in testosterone which will have a calming and confidence boosting influence.
And by the time golfer 2 gets to his shot, he hasn’t built up any unnecessary extra tension and hasn’t mentally exerted himself at all.
This is a far cry from golfer one who didn’t notice any smells, any beauty and failed to mutter a word to his playing partners.
He was playing golf completely in his head and I think so many of us are more like golfer one.
So how can you become that golfer that is present for most of the round?
I would strongly advise checking out mindfulness. I think mindfulness/meditation can get a bit of a bad rap as being a bit of an ‘’out there’’ practice that only hippies or monks partake in. But since taking up regular meditation myself, I can report back that its nothing of the sort.
Mindfulness is simple – it encourages you to become aware of what is happening in the present moment by using your sensors. (just like golfer two).
It isn’t some practice where you must stop all thinking for hours on end. It teaches you how you can just accept any thought or feeling that crops up without any judgement. Thoughts and feelings only really take control when you give them lots of attention.
And from this state of acceptance, it’s a lot easier to be more present.
Now of course, these techniques can be used to improve every single area of your life, but I think golf is such a prime example of when these can be so relevant.
Mindfulness is Perfect For Golf…
You have so much time to think, contemplate and obsess about things on the golf course and most of this behaviour is just so counterproductive to achieving your best.
It’s my belief that If you can train yourself to become much more present during your round, then your level and happiness will increase. You will have more focus and create less tension.
But it’s like any technical skill you might work on to improve your golf swing, it requires practice until thinking and behaving this way becomes more habitual.
I found during my practice that thinking like golfer two is quite a conscious effort at first because your habits from being golfer one requires overriding.
But once you start to do this more often, the habits of golfer two become more automatic.
For my own practice, I use the headspace App for 5-10 minutes most days. The techniques are so simple – you just spend a few minutes a day focusing on your breathing, bodily sensations (body scanning) and external stimuli like sounds and smells.
You will find that during your guided practice, your mind will start to wonder onto thoughts about things that aren’t happening now, which is fine. The better you get at this, the better you will become at noticing these moments and the better you will become at just letting your thoughts be there without judgement.
That is mindfulness in a nut shell. I must stress, this is not about stopping thoughts or thinking nothing. It is learning the ability to notice when your mind is going off on an unhelpful tangent and then being able to bring it back to the present.
Using a golfing example, if you’re thinking about a tough chip shot that you are faced with in 5 minutes time, instead of overthinking it and adding any unwanted tension, you’ll be able to calmly cut this off and focus on something that is happening right now – like your breathing.
When I used to get really nervous on the golf course – I would feel totally out of control. But since practising mindfulness, I have gained a greater sense of control during my time on the golf course.
It’s key to understand that your mind loves the present moment, so the more you can learn to be in it on the golf course, the greater chance you have of playing your best.
If you have any experience with mindfulness, it will be great to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.
Currently a low handicap golfer who is striving to become a scratch player. I have a very keen passion for the mental side of the game as I feel this is holding lots of golfers back from fulfilling their potential (as it did me) and also stopping them from enjoying this awesome game it as much as they should.